One could make the argument that the past two weeks were the most important in Reign history.
Think about it: A week ago Monday, Karl Taylor was the head coach, the Canucks were contemplating becoming a secondary affiliate, there was still no broadcaster, no assistant coach, and game-day parking at Citizens Business Bank Arena was still free for everyone. Today, Jason Christie and his offense-first approach are in the director’s chair and Mark Hardy is his right-hand man. Dan Hubbard is the internet radio voice, and season-ticket holders better hold onto that “free parking” sticker.
Much has changed in a short amount of time. We won’t know until October what it all means as wins and losses go, but if you’ve been following the team for any amount of time, you have to be intrigued by the possibilities. (Maybe not so much about the parking thing.)
I collected a lot of quotes this week that didn’t make the paper or the blog. Here they are:
Reign defenseman Chad Starling, on new coach Jason Christie:
I played for him for five years, four in Peoria and then to Utah. I went with him to Utah. He’s a hard-nosed coach. He likes hard-working players. His teams definitely are not easy teams to play against.
(On whether Christie is more offensive- or defensive-minded): The teams I played on for him, he was pretty defensive-minded. You took care of your own zone first, looked out from there, but we had guys who can put the puck in the net too. But that was five years ago, the last time I played for him. I guess maybe the game’s changed the last five years too. It’s a different game. when I played for him, we took care of our defense first. We had good teams there in Peoria, then in Utah we were six games over .500 — kind of like the first year team with the reign, you bring all new players in, stuff like that. He demands a lot of work out of his players. Practices were tough, very competitive. It carries over to games.
(What’s the biggest difference between him and Karl?) They’re not really that similar. They demand a lot of their players. Smurf isn’t scared to make a change if he has to. If somebody’s acting up, he’ll make a change pretty quick. Karl tries to work with what he has there, and we didn’t see too many trades, he always worked that way. Smurfie, if he doesn’t like somebody or something, he’ll make a change. He won’t think twice about it.
(Did his height earn him the nickname “Smurf”?) When he played he played a lot bigger than his height, pretty hard nosed. He played in Saskatoon in the Western League when that was a tough league.
(Did you keep in contact with him since you played for him in Utah?) Both my years in Cincinnati he was in Utah. He went to Chicago, was the assistant coach in Chicago, and then he was let go there, then he went to Bloomington. I haven’t talked to him in 4 or 5 years since I left there.
(But you still have a good idea what to expect from him?) Yeah, I know him well. Know what he expects. He likes his boys from the Western League. Pretty hard-nosed guy. If you work hard for him, that’s he wants.
(on what attracted him to the job) I think when obviously talking to Justin there, and just seeing the professionalism and stuff, the background that they’ve done, it’s just so – as a coach you want good surroundings. They do a great job there with the fan support.
(on your impressions of the area) I talked a lot with Karl. He’s helped a lot as far as that, and Justin has as well. Other coaches in the league tell me about it. it’s good. I’m excited to get out there, get going.
(is it the same ECHL you remember?) You have a couple teams with new coaches. But overall it’s the ECHL, they’ve done a good job with everyone being competitive. It’s something to look forward to, to get back out there. I coached in that division before. It’s exciting. (Matt) Thomas in Stockton, (Kevin) Colley in Utah, Alaska winning it last year, it’s going to be competitive again.
(what kind of a team can we expect to see with you as the coach?) We want to be a puck possession team. That’s how you create your offense. We want to make sure we’re doing that. Hard working, day in and day out. Making sure we have the same goals, (being on) the same page I think is huge.
(do you consider yourself more offensive or defensive-oriented?) Today’s game is pretty wide open, you just have to make sure you’re consistent. You want to make sure everyone’s involved on the ice on offense. Offensive, I like it. I like strong defensive play too, because you have to have strong defensive play.
(what was your reaction when you realized you’d be coaching Chad Starling again?) It’s good. I enjoyed having Starls. He’s a big kid you rely on game in, game out. He logged a lot of minutes for me when I had him.
(on Mark Hardy) Everybody knows Mark Hardy, the success he had in the National Hockey League. I played against him too when he was in Long Beach. I definitely know who Mark Hardy is for sure.
(Why Jason Christie?) Honestly, he’s a proven winner. He’s coached at three different pro levels, including the ECHL for 8 seasons. He comes with a proven track record as a great recruiter. He, a lot of his references, came back very, very positive. (Ron) Hextall and myself felt he gave us the best opportunity with the development players, players in the Kings’ system. All-around, a guy who could step right in and make an immediate impact this season.
(Was he your first choice?) Um, you know, we went back and forth a couple times early on. I would say that for the past few days, I had him in the driver’s seat as the guy I thought was the best for us.
(Who’s “we”?) I had spoken with every (candidate) prior to Ron. He had a chance to speak with those candidates on Friday. He and I spoke over the weekend. Kinda went over our notes. Ultimately, that’s how I came to the decision. The decision was mine. As I told him, the Kings opinion on this was obviously an important factor as well.
(Did you purposely want a coach who was more offensive-minded?) Certainly the playing style was something that was intriguing. During the process, I asked everybody what their coaching style was. You get a well-rounded field of coaching styles. I thought having an offensive guy in here isn’t necessary a bad thing. We haven’t been a terribly offensive team since we’ve been in Ontario. I felt our defense and goaltending was solid at this point in the season. I felt like bringing a guy who could bring us an offensive boost. Would be a nice addition. His style of play is intriguing to us.
(Did you seek input from players on Christie?) I didn’t. I purposely tried to steer away from that. I know Chad had played for him. I tried to keep it to people who had worked with him on another level – as coaches, affiliates, or trainers, equipment guys, that type of thing. I wanted to be consistent with everyone.
(What’s going to be the toughest thing for Jason in your opinion?) The toughest thing is going to be the fact that our season starts in just over 7 weeks. We still have an incomplete roster. I think from a recruiting standpoint, it’s going to be challenging. One of the big, comforting factors about going with him is he’s done this before. He went into Bloomington almost a year ago to the day and took them from missing the playoffs four straight years — no playoffs to a good regular season. We know he’s capable of doing that in a short turnaround time. He’s got the respect of players and a lot of contacts. It’s just, and also the fact, most of the players we have at this point were signed under Karl. He’s getting acclimated to a brand new team, working with a new affiliate. The challenge of having to work through all those new things.
(How much stock did you put into NHL experience?) Not a lot. I interviewed a few candidates with NHL experience — some with not a lot, some with several years. I wanted someone who could handle this challenge at this level and hit the ground running. It’s not the NHL. There are so many things the head coach has to worry about, has to do. Bringing somebody in that was able to do that with a small-to-no learning curve was especially important to us at this point in the game. Not having NHL experience didn’t have any factor whatsoever.
(Compare this search process to the first go-around with Karl.) It was night and day. When Karl came on at that time, the Kings, we’d gone to the Kings and said, ‘is there somebody you recommend in your system?’ They immediately said Karl. They wanted to have him here. So I actually had really little if anything to do with that initial process until he got here. This time around, they certainly offered up any assistance they could give and said, ‘this is your guys’ decision. Let us know how involved you want us to be.’ I liked having the opportunity to go out and find the candidates, but certainly their input was critical to making the decision. This was a more labor-intensive process for me.
(How hard was it to find qualified candidates?) This was a job that was pretty highly sought-after among people in the hockey commmunity. It wasn’t challenging to find a good pool. The challenging part was going through the pool and finding who was the best for Ontario. That’s a good problem to have.
(Talk about the resumes your received.) All the resumes I received, some clearly weren’t qualified necessarily for this job, and some you look at and say, ‘wow’ – I don’t want to say overqualified. How are you overqualified to be a great coach? It’s just a different job. But you look at people with extensive NHL experience, it’s impressive. There were a lot of good people out there from all different parts of hockey. Head coaching experience. Junior leagues, colleges, coaches in this league, central, AHL, NHL. Any league, you name it, somebody in there had been a part of it. it’s well-rounded. We didn’t pick just whoever wanted the job.
(Did you seek out anyone who didn’t apply?) Not really. There were, Jason was one of the first people I contracted. I knew of his situation in Bloomington. He was definitely a person of interest with his background. I did reach out to a few individuals. I didn’t try to pluck anyone from their current employers.
(Describe the “situation in Bloomington”.) Him coming in late last season, being able to turn around a team that struggled on the ice, coach them to the third-best record (in his conference), that’s a big turnaround. It’s not an easy task no matter what league you’re talking about. Certainly the fact that he was recognized as coach of the year, hardest-working team — whether you’ve been watching hockey for 20 years or if this is your first game, most can pick up which players are working hard, which are dogging it. Having a hard-working team is a priority for us. He was sort of the right place at the right time. You don’t always know what you’re going to get late in the season like this.
He’s had good teams. I think (Starling) said it best in one of those quotes – ‘his teams are hard to play against.’ He’s a fiery coach. He’s he’s not afraid to take chances. That was a good dynamic for us to have here at this point. We want, this is our 4th year, we’re not a new team anymore. We were forced into a position to make a change. I wanted to give them something to be excited about, give them something different. He was going to have a team that was going to compete night after night, and that’s what you want. I don’t think we’ll be getting any surprises.
(Did you know him before this?) I didn’t know him. I knew of him. I had never met him prior to this process. He was one of the people I met with in person, because I felt he was certainly a top candidate, somebody that I felt that was necessary with. I couldn’t bring in everybody I wanted to meet in person. Not too many people in southern California are head coaching process. I was a little bit limited with my resources. This is ult somebody I’ve got to work with, feel comfortable with. Bobby Walls was an important part of this as well, because he works with him more than I do.
(Will there be a “meet the coach” type session?) I’m going to plan a meet and greet. I don’t know when that’s going to be – likely in September, within the next 2 to 3 weeks, at a local location to be determined. Probably something in the evening where fans can participate as well.
(How well do you know Jason Christie?) I know him somewhat, met him when he came for a visit. We’ve dealt with each other on the phone before, whether it’s trading players or what have you. Met him at coaches’ meetings before. He’s done well in our league before. As far as I know he’s a good person. I don’t think I’ve ever coached against his teams. I’ve never seen his teams play, but he’s always done well and.
(How much work does he have to do before the season starts?) The team’s in good shape right now, I think. Jason’s going to want to get players he’s comfortable with. Players are making decisions. He’s definitely not intimidated by the timing of it. He’s already got his network put together. I told him I’m here to help in any way possible.
(How much have you seen the ECHL change since he left?) I think the league has changed in that there’s more contracted players at our level. Most teams, I think, the average at our level is 7 NHL or American League players for most teams, which I think is a result of the salary cap, teams trying to invest in developlment. I think the quality of players and coaching has increased. Part of that is we’ve lost 5 or 6 teams since Jason was in this league. There’s 120 jobs. Less teams, less jobs, that should elevate the level of play. Those are the biggest issues, but he’ll be fine with that. The league’s changed somewhat, but he knows it well.
The best thing about Jason is that he’s coached in the Western Conference. He knows the rinks, the travel, he’ll be really familiar with all the areas, the cities. Also some of the coaches that are still out here. that will be a good comfort level, give him a pretty good layout.
I’m pinching myself that it’s still in Southern California and that I’m part of the Kings’ family again. I didn’t know if it would happen or not. For them to want me is just a great feeling.
(What was your other job offer?) It was with Walter’s Wholesale Electric. They deal with contractors. I got involved with the owner of the company. They talked to me about coming aboard as a salesperson. I thanked him for giving me the opportunity. He knew that my passion has always been hockey. He gave me a lot of time to think about it. I was probably 1 or 2 days away from making that decision. I was just ecstatic that he called me, asked me to be an asst coach, so that I can move forward with Jason Christie. The rest of the organization, I’m looking forward to getting it going.
(Do you know Jason?) I don’t. I think I played against him when I was with the Detroit Vipers or the Ice Dogs, I think he was in the IHL at the time, I think I played a few games against him. I remember he was a hard-nosed competitor, played the game hard, with a lot of intensity. I’m sure he coaches the same way. He’s had some very, very successful years. I’m looking forward to working with him, bringing some success to the Reign, making the playoffs.
(Do you feel you’re prepared to answer questions about why you resigned?) I guess I’m prepared. As a family, and as all my friends and that, we’ve put that behind us and are moving forward. Maybe those questions will come up. I think in life, there’s the serenity prayer that I say every day and it’s something that I live by. There’s some things you have to put things behind you. I’ve done everything to clear things off. I’ve moved forward, my family’s moved forward. I’m looking for good things ahead now. I just want to move forward, get back into coaching, have something to get up in the morning and just look forward to.
Justin Kemp on Mark Hardy:
(How concerned were you about the circumstances that led to his resignation?) Not ultimately all that concerned. When I met with him, I let him know this decision is strictly going to come down to a hockey decision. I’ve known Mark off and on for 16 years. As far as a character guy goes, he’s done everything right to get back into the game and I can see his determination, how badly he wanted to be a part of the game. I had 100 percent confidence in him as a person, it just came down to what was the best decision from our hockey team.
As I told Mark too, he has an overwhelming amount of support through the interview process, people calling in to give words of encouragement, as did Jason for that matter. Both of these guys combined, I got a tremendous number of phone calls and feedback that makes you sleep well at night. I’ve not gotten anything negative. It’s all been overwhelmingly positive.
(How rare is to have someone with his experience as an ECHL assistant?) I would say it’s extraordinarily rare. This is a very very unique situation, probably for both him and us. And one that given my history with him, and I just, I felt like it was an opportunity I really wanted to try to take advantage of in some way. To have this kind of a coaching tandem at this level is definitely something very special.
(How will they share responsibilities?) We brought Jason in, Jason’s our head guy. He’s the one that’s going to ultimately doing recruiting, making final decisions about what happens with this team. It’s been stated that he’s definitely a good coach. Mark Hardy is a defensive and special teams specialist. We feel that it gives us a well-rounded approach to leading this team, and I think they’re going to work very well together. I think they’re both very experienced in different areas. They’ll both be able to learn things from each other. I expect they’ll work well together.
(People might wonder why the more experienced of the two coaches is the assistant.) I would imagine. I spoke with Mark a week or so ago. He and I sat down and I told him, this is a situation, coming in here to Ontario, 7 or 8 weeks before the season starts, this is a difficult situation you’re walking into. It was important to me to have someone who can step right in, that had been at this level, who can handle the responsibilities at this level with little to any learning curve. We both recognized, he and myself, that he would have more of a learning curve. This really gave us the best opportunity to be successful. Jason’s been in this situation before, as a guy by himself. I felt confident if he was the only guy, being able to get us to the next level. this is a tremendous bonus opportunity to us to get Mark Hardy in here to complement that. I don’t think experience is going to be as much of a factor as it is on the surface. Mark works well with all types of people. Talking with Jason, I know he’s very excited to have a guy like Mark working alongside him as well.